Boxing: Myths and Truths

By Coach Willis - 05/01/2023 - No comments

Boxing is civilization’s oldest action sport, although it is the youngest sport to accept modern day training concepts. Boxing, however, remains the only major sport without a central governing organization at the helm of decision-making and uniform practices. In short, boxing is a helter-skelter sport prompting the comment: “If they ever organize it, they’ll destroy it!”

From the viewpoint of Sports Medicine concepts inroads have been made. Physical training practices have improved as well. Yet, it hasn’t come easy to boxing. Far too long, boxing has labored in the realm of myths, particularly “wives tales” that inaccurately attempt to explain the boxer’s anatomical and mechanical attributes.

For example: There is confusion over the terms associated with the brain’s inherent ability to supply motor movements and reactions in coordination with the muscles. The terms Power, Speed, and Strength get mixed up in boxing’s language. It is commonplace to hear boxing commentators try to explain that a fighter should use his power because he/she lacks speed. Or, that older fighters “lose their legs” but not their power.

There’s a simple formula that clarifies the terminology: Strength+Speed=Power. As far as “losing their legs” is concerned, it should imply that some older fighters just don’t train as hard as they once did. Shrewd ring antics combined with survival techniques often replace meaningful physical conditioning regimens.

A few years ago, this comment was made on a boxing telecast: “His legs quit before the rest of his body!” In more comprehensive language it should infer that when general physical fitness and preparation are lacking, then the brain’s motor transmissions (nerve impulses) cannot be fully received by out-of-shape muscles. In other words, a poorly conditioned boxer will be unable to effectively use his/her skills.

The mechanics of punching are often combined with the question: Why do some boxers have a knockout punch, while others lack it? Similar to hitting homeruns in baseball or scoring a KO punch, it’s explained as being “all in the wrists” for baseball, and at “the end of the punch” in boxing.

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The body’s structures and leverages coupled with explosive power is a complex maneuver combining total large muscle reaction to hand-and-eye coordinated messages from the brain to the skeletal muscles. Throwing a punch is TOTAL BODY. Strength and speed of reaction (power) emanates from the larger upper leg muscles upward through the midsection and into the shoulder girdle. It is a massive coordinated response generating momentum from a host of muscular groups. Certain leverages are peculiar to particular sports depending on the variations of body structures.

Another boxing bugaboo is the appearance of a muscular fighter as being too “tight.” It’s implied that “loose” boxers have more sting than “tight” boxers. There are varying body-types or anatomical characteristics. Some athletes have a highlighted muscularity, but it has nothing to do with a lack of flexibility, coordination and power.

Weight training is relatively new to boxing unlike other sports. The wives tale belief is that weight training creates muscular tightness and slows speed of movement. Nothing is farther from the truth. In actuality, there is a correlation between strength and speed of movement. To what degree a boxer has inherent speed ability, that ability will be utilized more effectively via strength training. Full-range, large-muscle exercises must be employed. It doesn’t imply that strength training makes the athlete faster or quicker per se, but it does mean the athlete will be more efficient in using the degree of speed ability he/she posseses.

We now come to boxing’s enthrallment with “sweating.” If a fighter is not sweating heavily upon entering the ring, it is thought the fighter is not warmed up. It must be noted here that research on the subject has never proven conclusively that warming up provides a physical advantage. Laborious warm-up routines are believed to be more mental than physical at the preference of each individual athlete.

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Perhaps the brain’s kinesthetic senses (balance, control of movements) profit more from warm ups than the absurd belief that the body’s core temperature must be raised until heavy sweating is obtained. Glistening with sweat is believed to be the indication that the fighter is ready for action. Remember this fact: Water loss curtails cardiovascular function. Under heat stressful conditions coupled with water loss, the body’s physiological functions will begin to shutdown. Lose as little as 2% of bodyweight through sweating and athletic performance will suffer.

“Making weight” can be dangerous when steamrooms and plastic suits are used to trigger water loss. Even in workouts some gyms will purposely increase the heat and humidity to trigger sweating. This practice is thought to be good, it toughens and conditions boxers. Conversely, it greatly disrupts the body’s chemistry and curtails physical efficiency. It’s been said that boxers attempting to make weight shouldn’t shower because the water will be absorbed by the skin’s pores and make them (boxers) heavier!

There are varying metabolic rates. Some athletes just don’t sweat as heavily as others do. A boxer may break-out in a sweat merely thinking of fighting, while another boxer might enter the ring feeling ready to go, but showing no sign of body sweat. Sweating is NOT an indication of physical conditioning.

Other major sports discovered long ago that the consumption of water during physical activity is paramount to sustained athletic performance, particularly under the duress of heat and humid conditions. Too often boxing doles out its water sparingly. Boxing has come a long way in recent years in debunking some of the training myths but, still, many of the old wives tales continue to haunt the world’s oldest sport.